How did the so-called rationalist community become so gullible?

Here we go again. Remember that silly “Sovereign Nations” conference? An obscure organization — actually little more than a single crank with money — invites a couple of dubious atheist celebrities to a weekend in London to give a couple of talks. Sure, that’s a conference all right, by definition, and that’s how many currently respected atheist conferences had their beginning, but it’s not much of an effort to communicate and share ideas. What made it weird is that some people treated it as a distinctive mark of honor that conferred instant credibility on a particular narrow point of view. It didn’t help that Richard Dawkins praised it (at first…when he learned that organizer was a strange religious conservative, he back-pedaled.)

It’s happening again. In this case, two people I never heard of announced an atheist conference in England and immediately got an endorsement from Richard Dawkins. It’s called the Anti-Theism International Convention. They got some respectable people, like Maryam Namazie and Stephen Law and Aron Ra, and then…Lawrence Krauss. A gaggle of YouTubers better known for their opposition to transgender issues and support for Rationality Rules. Lurking in their unused video promos is Richard Carrier. I think I can already detect a bias here — this is just another reaction to #MeToo, trying to whitewash misogyny.

One of the organizers is someone named John Richards, the publications director for Atheist Alliance International. You know, the organization that recently hired David Silverman. By this time, the whole thing is reeking of sliminess.

But OK, they have the right to organize a conference, and I’m not going to oppose it. Please do go buy a ticket for £199 if this is the kind of thing that floats your boat. I’ll just mention that you’re being bamboozled. This is an impromptu money grab by a small group in a pretend organization that didn’t exist until this past July, when they created a Facebook page, a Facebook page that is practically empty of content and has no commenters. It’s an empty shell of an organization that seems to have been a spontaneous brain fart by a pair of obscure nobodies.

Again, that’s fine. That’s how big events get started, and they all have to get started somewhere. I’ll just point out that this one contains a heck of a lot of ridiculous claims.

One of their big things is a gala awards banquet, in which they’ll be handing out awards for “Atheist of the Year” and “Jesus Mythicist of the Year” and “Best Atheist Video of the Year”, etc. You can make nominations, if you’d like, but a panel of unnamed judges will make the final decision, and I suspect that all the winners will conform to the organizer’s somewhat regressive political leanings. Furthermore, the hyperbole will turn your stomach.

You’ve heard of the Oscars, Emmys and Baftas?

This is the Attys! (the Anti-Theism International Awards)

Yes, I’ve heard of the Oscars, Emmys and Baftas. The “Attys” are not exactly of the same rank. It gets worse.

The Atty Awards are probably the most prestigious Awards in the Atheist Community and winning a Atty Award will not only get you recognition within the Atheist Community, it will give you a chance to enjoy giving worldwide speaking engagements as well as Keynote presentations at many events around the world. The Awards will be presented by some of the most famous atheist on the planet and the winners will be invited to the VIP area of the after awards ceremony for photo opportunites and press talks.

These “Atty Awards” have not been given out before, are a new invention of this oddly new and nebulous organization, and they are already the most prestigious award an atheist can get? Wow. Winning one will get you worldwide speaking engagements? Really? I sure hope none of the winners proudly advertise themselves as recipients of an Atty Award, because it’s not going to impress. I think all it means is that John Richards likes you this year, and that and $3 will get you a cup of coffee from the Caribou stand in the supermarket in Morris, Minnesota.

OK, I’ll sweeten the deal. I’m giving out the Morris Award for the Most Lost Atheist of 2020 to the first godless person to hit me up at the Willies Supervalu. I’ll even pay for the cup of coffee. Keep the cup, because I’m sure it will get you prestigious invitations to worldwide speaking engagements.


  1. sarah00 says

    Only British and American speakers, and only one woman. Not great for diversity or the “international” there.

    I’m also curious why the company is registered in Germany.

  2. says

    It’s bad enough when theists accuse atheists of having a religion because we understand science. The last thing we need is some pointless award ceremony. What’s next? Atheist “pope”? We really don’t need to put more fuel on that fire of a false equivalency by formalizing “The Best Atheist” of the year.

  3. Reginald Selkirk says

    The Atty Awards are probably the most prestigious Awards in the Atheist Community…

    I would have to go with FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes award. The FFRF seems to have made fewer mis-steps than other nontheistic groups.

  4. sarah00 says

    I’ve found the program and it appears I misspoke earlier as there are two women out of the 8 speakers, and one of the male speakers will be coming from The Netherlands so that’s 3 countries covered in this “international” conference. It also appears that no food and drink is covered by the conference costs – the program says things like “Drinks and snacks are available at the Cafe” and “enjoy the great cafes and restaurants of Brighton”.

  5. says

    One of the organizers, Gregorchuk, is from Germany.

    I’ve given a talk in Brighton. I really liked the city — and the cold gray beaches. It was my kind of ocean front.

    Nice to be nominated, but they threaten to call and interview nominees, before rejecting people like me. I’d rather not engage with them at all.

  6. Dunc says

    Is there really any good reason to suppose that the gullibility level of “the so-called rationalist community” has changed at all? Is it not more likely that they were always this gullible, and you just hadn’t noticed because very few people were actively attempting to gull them? After all, the internet has been a godsend to affinity scammers of all stripes…

  7. says

    If someone wants to nominate me for Atheist Pope go right ahead. I’m just as good of a choice for such an utterly useless role as anyone else. And I promise not to con a bunch of money out of whoever is dumb enough to be conned by an Atheist Pope.

  8. leerudolph says

    “Attys” was already used at least once before, as the name for a poetry contest, in honor of Margaret Atwood.

  9. microraptor says

    Reginald Selkirk@3:

    The FFRF is currently running television ads with Seven Pinker as their spokesperson. That’s enough of a misstep for me.

  10. Louis says

    1) If the Atty trophy is not just a base (i.e. with no figurine on top) then they have missed a good joke.

    2) Morris Award for the Most Lost Atheist of 2020? Fly to Morris? Get a cup of coffee? Sounds worth it. See you Friday.*


    *I won’t be there. Prior engagement. But my not being there is the most atheist thing ever. God isn’t there and neither am I. I claim my £5.

  11. waydude says

    I would like to win the Most Lost Atheist award and the cup of joe!

    google maps Morris

    Oh, so that would be an accurate award then

  12. Rich Woods says

    @PZ #6:

    I really liked the city — and the cold gray beaches.

    I see you visited Brighton in summer. You should go again; the British coastline is even more bracing in the midst of a winter storm.

  13. killyosaur says

    I stopped reading the press release about the Atty’s (Atties?) about the point where it used “a Atty” instead of “an Atty”. I can forgive the lack of proper editing on a blog post or a comment, but anything intended as an “official” release of some kind should have someone proof reading it. (yeah not the biggest concern regarding this whole sham, but everything else wrong with this group has already been pointed out, so… :P )

  14. graham says

    The UK’s two largest and most respected ‘anti-theist’ organisations are Humanists UK (formerly the British Humanist Association) and the National Secular Society. If they haven’t managed to, or haven’t tried to, get either of these involved then it tells you all you need to know about this fringe event.

  15. ikanreed says

    Yep, I want a prize for all my negative truth value ideologies now.

    Gold medal in leprechauns-aren’t-real olympics.
    Blue ribbon in the race isn’t a meaningful scientific construct county fair.
    Gold Star for good participation in don’t drink bleach kindergarten.

  16. says

    killyosaur @#17

    I stopped reading the press release about the Atty’s (Atties?) about the point where it used “a Atty” instead of “an Atty”. I can forgive the lack of proper editing on a blog post or a comment, but anything intended as an “official” release of some kind should have someone proof reading it.

    This is a pretty nasty attitude: “Were you born in poverty and couldn’t afford university education? Are you a non-native English speaker? Do you have too little money to hire native proofreaders? If so, sucks for you, because then you aren’t worth listening to, and any event you might want to organize is automatically not worth attending.”

    Snobs like you are why it’s so hard for marginalized people to have their voices heard. By the way, I’m not a native English speaker, I don’t have much money, and I also have organized events that were advertised to English-speaking audiences. Having to deal with snobs like you has been a pain in the ass for me personally.

    Granted, in this case the conference seems to be organized by native English speakers who probably do have money. So I’m definitely not defending them, because hiring proofreaders is the reasonable thing to do assuming you can afford it. What I oppose is your overall attitude, I’m not defending this particular (clearly awful) conference. I also don’t oppose the idea that people should strive to write texts without mistakes. Nor do I object to people politely pointing out spelling mistakes in somebody else’s text. But refusing to read some text after spotting a single spelling mistake in it is snobbish and nasty.

  17. larpar says

    They called the award an Atty so that they could congratulate each other by saying “Atty Boy”. And I get the feeling that most of the winners will be boys.

  18. khms says

    #23 @DanDare

    Before i wen to scul i couldnt not spel computa programa but now i are one.

    I Once had a colleague like that. He grew up in Russia. His German was bad. His English was almost non-existent. His accent was strong, grammar was not his friend, and neither was spelling. I’m not certain we got all the spelling mistakes out of the sources many years after he left us. And I found it almost impossible to discuss programming problems with him; I don’t like to ask people half a dozen times to repeat themselves, and it doesn’t really help anyway.
    I should probably add that I had two other colleagues with very similar backgrounds, who had none of these problems. The guy left with the first guy, the woman is still with us. We’ve had people from other places, too. At least two with Turkish derivation, one with Polish roots (but with a Berlin accent) … and that with a business of about a dozen people. Germany really is a melting pot.